Last weekend could prove to be a pivotal one in the NIHL South 2 title race. While leaders Chelmsford lost in Invicta, their closest three challengers – Slough, Solent and Oxford – all won on the road, to close the gap at the top.
And with Slough level on points on the Chieftains with a game in hand – which they will play on Saturday – we could have a new league leader this weekend.
Meanwhile at the other end of the table, both Swindon and Lee Valley took their first wins of the season last weekend, and face each other this Saturday in a true basement battle.
Solent Devils vs Bracknell Hornets
A team on a winning run against a team in disarray kicks off the schedule on Saturday.
Solent extended their winning streak to 13 games last weekend, as they made the short trip to Basingstoke to face the Buffalo, ultimately grinding out a 4-2 win. It wasn’t pretty, but such road wins are exactly the kind of results that title-chasing teams like the Devils need. Goals for Solent came from Richard Facey (x2), Alexander Trendall and James Hounsome. The Devils are now just two points behind leaders Chelmsford with two games in hand; and can go level on points with the league leaders with a win in this game.
The Hornets lost both their games last weekend – going down 3-2 in overtime against Peterborough, before a surprising 5-3 defeat at Haringey. The Hornets are now on a three game losing streak, and have lost a total of eight games this season as they sit just eighth in the table. Last season, they finished third with just five losses – so to say that the season isn’t going the Hornets’ way would be an understatement.
After recent changes to coaching and personnel, there was another bombshell dropped during the week, as it was announced that the team’s top scorer Steve Fisher had been released. Fisher is ninth in league scoring with 38 points, and has 11 points more than Bracknell’s next best scorer (Jakub Fojtik). Time will tell how the Hornets compensate for the points that they will lose by releasing Fisher.
On current form, anything other than a Solent win would be a surprise – expect the south coast side to draw level on points with Chelmsford with a victory here.
Invicta Mustangs vs Bristol Pitbulls
A team that took a shock win last weekend hosts a team that suffered a surprising loss last time out, in an intriguing encounter in Kent.
The Mustangs shocked pretty much the whole league with a huge 7-5 win over leaders Chelmsford last weekend. For context: since the Chieftains joined this league in the summer of 2017, they had beaten the Mustangs 11-1, 8-0 and 8-3, so the chances of a Mustangs win seemed low. But the Mustangs put in a fantastic performance, with goals from Joseph Bliss (x3), Jake Stedman, Kevin Lake, Owen Dell and Bradley Gutridge sealing the win, with Matthew Passmore stopping 31 of 36 Chieftains shots. That win will give the Mustangs all the confidence in the world, and they will be eagerly anticipating the visit of an out-of-form Bristol side.
The Pitbulls have lost five of their last six games, with their sole win in that spell coming against Peterborough three weeks ago. Last weekend was a disappointing one for Richard Hargreaves’ side, as they suffered a 6-4 defeat at the hands of a Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats side that had not won a game yet this season. Goals from Adam Coakley, Giacomo Raffaelli, Adrian Smith and Matthew Thornhill weren’t enough for Bristol, as they handed the Wildcats their first win of the season at the 18th attempt. The result means that the Pitbulls remain 10th in the table, now only three points ahead of Haringey in 11th, having played a game more. The Pitbulls need to get their season back on track, and fast.
This game is a tough one to call – usually Bristol would be considered favourites, and they did beat the Mustangs 6-3 earlier in the season. But considering recent results, this match could go either way.
Lee Valley Lions vs Swindon Wildcats
It’s a true basement battle in East London on Saturday as the Lions look to finally move off the foot of the table, at the expense of a Wildcats side that they defeated in Swindon last Sunday.
The Lions took their first win in 21 months last Sunday at the Link Centre, as Steve Grout backstopped them to a win with a 37-shot shutout, and goals from Tom Hnilica (x2), Joe Berry, Alex Clarke and Joshua Irish sealed victory. The win puts them just one point behind the Wildcats with the same number of games played, so a victory for the Lions in this return game would move them up to 14th ahead of Swindon. If the Lions can pull off the win, it would be their first victory at home in almost 24 months.
The Wildcats had a rollercoaster weekend last time out; they took their first win of the season on Saturday, winning 6-4 on the road against Bristol, before the aforementioned home defeat to Lee Valley. On the scoresheet for the Wildcats against Bristol were Jason Warren (x2), Edward Quant, Harry Llewellyn, Eliot Randall and David Collins; while Tyler Perre was excellent in goal, stopping 53 of 57 Bristol shot attempts. Fast-forward 24 hours though, and Perre was pulled from the net after conceding 5 goals on 28 Lions shots, so he will have a point to prove if he starts in net in this game.
This game is a big one at the foot of the table – and given the fact that the Lions won on the road against the same opponents last weekend, they are probably favourites for this game too.
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Oxford City Stars
Overtime specialists Peterborough host title-chasing Oxford in a big game on Mallard Road.
The Phantoms showed great determination last Saturday to win 3-2 in overtime in Bracknell, leapfrogging the Hornets and going seventh in the table in the process. Nick Alley scored the winner in the 63rd minute, adding to earlier goals from Conor Pollard and Jordan Liddell. Impressively, the Phantoms have a 100% record in overtime games this season – all five games that have gone longer than 60 minutes have ended in victory for Peterborough. Their form is still patchy, but the Phantoms are just two points behind Guildford in fifth place with nine games left in the season, so a top five finish is very much still on for the team that also finished fifth last season.
Oxford took an impressive 5-0 road win in Cardiff last weekend to close the gap to Chelmsford at the top of the table to six points, with four games in hand. Joe Edwards netted for Oxford in his last game before moving up a division to join the Milton Keynes Thunder, while Oxford also got goals from Tom Davis, Conor Redmond, Michal Oravec and Lee Richardson in their win in South Wales, with John Dibble celebrating a 38-shot shutout. Oxford have now won five in a row since losing to Solent on the 1st of December, and will need to keep that winning run up if they want to topple the three sides ahead of them in the table.
If this game goes to overtime, Peterborough would have to be considered favourites given their results this season. But expect title-chasing Oxford to wrap up a win in regulation time, although it could be a pretty close game.
Slough Jets vs Basingstoke Buffalo
Less than two years after finishing bottom of the league and being forced to play out of a tiny temporary rink, Slough could finally reach the top of the pile on Saturday – if they can beat Basingstoke at the Hangar.
The Jets won their 17th game in a row last Saturday, coming away from Romford with an impressive 7-2 win against the NIHL2 Raiders. Sam Talbot bagged a hat-trick, Dan Rose a brace, and Harry Harcup and Jacob Soper a goal apiece, as the Jets put in a strong performance on the road against a tricky Raiders side. The news that player-coach Lukas Smital can neither play for, nor coach, the side until the start of March does not seem to have had any adverse effect on this Jets side, and they will hope to crown their fantastic form with a move up to the top of the mountain tonight.
Basingstoke put in a gutsy performance at home to heavily-fancied Solent last Sunday, restricting the Devils to just four goals scored and making them work extremely hard for their 4-2 win. Both goals for the Buffalo came from Warren Jones, while Aaron Burton put in another great performance in goal as he stopped 41 of 45 Solent shots, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to beat the reigning playoff champions. Nonetheless, the Buffalo still have a number of games in hand on the sides above them in the league, so will still hope to move up a few positions in the table by the end of the season provided they win some of those games in hand.
However, with all due respect this probably isn’t a game that the Buffalo are likely to win – expect to see Slough take victory and move up to the top of the table.
Guildford Phoenix vs Haringey Huskies
Sunday’s only game is an intriguing one at the Spectrum, as fifth placed Guildford look to build a cushion between them and the teams below them, but welcome a Haringey side that knocked off Bracknell last weekend.
Guildford’s season has been the definition of up-and-down; never winning more than two games in a row, and never losing more than three on the bounce. After winning their last two games against Lee Valley and Cardiff, they sit fifth in the league with the likes of Romford, Peterborough, Bracknell and Cardiff breathing down their necks. The 4-1 win in Cardiff last Saturday was a huge one for the Phoenix given how tight the table is looking – goals from Andrew Hemmings (x2), Bailey Wootton and Haydn Wootton sealed the win, with Sam Calder stopping 40 of 41 Cardiff shots in the Guildford net too. Now, they look to win three in a row for the first time this season.
The Huskies’ season was looking pretty disappointing at Christmas, finding themselves quite a way outside the top ten having won just three games. However since 2019 began, the Huskies have looked a much improved side – winning three out of four games, and only losing to Slough by a relatively low scoreline of 0-3. They now sit just three points outside the top ten, with a game in hand on Bristol above them Most impressive was last weekend’s 5-3 win over Bracknell as Luke Martin-Digby scored a brace; Ricky Rutherford, Stuart Appleby and Stephen Woodford added a goal apiece; and David Wride turned away 32 of 35 shots to clinch a big win for the Huskies.
When these two sides met at Alexandra Palace earlier in the season, the Huskies came away with a 3-2 win – which was surprising at the time considering the form of the two sides. This time around, with both sides on winning runs, any result is possible – this game is a hard one to call.
17:00 Solent Devils vs Bracknell Hornets
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Bristol Pitbulls
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
17:30 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Oxford City Stars
17:45 Slough Jets vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Haringey Huskies
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings